Author: Disability Benefits Center
Depression takes its toll on all aspects of life, including the ability to perform well on the job. The disease can affect sleep, interpersonal communications, concentration, and physical health as well. Although many people with depression are able to continue working, severe depression may stop you from earning a gainful living or from holding a job at all. If this is true for you, then you may be able to qualify for benefits through the Social Security Administration (SSA).
THE SSA’S DISABILITY PROGRAMS
Disability benefits are available through two separate programs:
Each program requires you meet medical eligibility rules as well as program-specific technical and/or financial requirements:
- For SSDI, you must have a work history during which you paid Social Security taxes and accumulated work credits. Most adults who worked even part-time before their depression affected their job will qualify for SSDI benefits.
- For SSI, you must have limited income and other financial resources and assets. There is no work requirement for SSI, but an adult cannot have more than $2,000 saved in resources to qualify for SSI.
Each program pays a monthly cash benefit and offers eligibility for medical coverage through Medicare or Medicaid as well.
MEDICALLY QUALIFYING FOR BENEFITS WITH DEPRESSION
Qualifying for disability benefits with depression and other forms of mental illness is notoriously difficult. This is because the SSA has strict standards for how severe mental illness must be in order to meet medical eligibility requirements.
The SSA measures your symptoms and medical records against information found in the Blue Book. The Blue Book is found online and depression is evaluated under the listing in Section 12.04. This listing requires you suffer from at least four of the following symptoms:
- Disinterest or a lack of pleasure in life and most activities
- Consistently low levels of energy or endurance
- Sleep issues, which may include oversleeping or insomnia
- Trouble concentrating or thinking clearly
- Decreased or consistently low physical activity levels
- Persistent feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- Hallucinations, delusions, or paranoia
- Suicidal thoughts or tendencies
In addition, your depression symptoms must cause you to experience pronounced issues with at least two of the following:
- Functioning socially,
- Focusing, remaining on task, or completing activities,
- Performing everyday actions or “activities of daily living,”
- Periods of worsening symptoms, which must be lengthy and repeated
The SSA also needs to see specific medical evidence that shows you have ongoing issues despite following the treatments prescribed by your psychiatrist or psychologist.
Proving a mental illness meets these severity level standards can be challenging, especially if your psychiatric records are limited. Work closely with your doctor to document the full extent of your mental, emotional, and physical symptoms.
Even with robust medical records, you should be prepared for the possibility you’ll receive a denial notice from the SSA and have to file an appeal. Nationwide, nearly 70% of initial disability applications are denied.
Applications filed for mental illnesses are often among those that do not meet medical eligibility requirements, but the stronger your medical records are, the less likely you are to be found ineligible. A solid record of medical evidence also helps with the appeals process, if you are initially denied benefits.
APPLYING FOR BENEFITS AND FILING APPEALS
Disability applications often take months to go through the first and second review stages, and an appeal can add several more months to the process. This means you may have to wait a year or longer before you have a final decision on your claim. Disability benefits can be the financial help you need to pay for everyday living expenses, medical bills, and other financial obligations though, so the application process is well worth the time and effort.
The SSDI application can be completed in person at your local SSA office or online via the SSA’s website. SSI applications on the other hand must be completed via a personal interview, usually at a local branch office.